Today is Friday the 13th—the most unlucky day according to the Western superstition. And as for us Bengalis, today is Bhoot Chaturdashi—the day of the ghosts. Can it be any more unlucky? But strangely enough, I don’t feel so…
All my life, I dreaded these two days the most. But this year I guess I’m going to make a change. Maybe it will be a part of my “overcome your fears” resolution. Or perhaps it will be a part of my growing up process. 2020 had been quite a learning experience after all!
Getting back to the change part… There are two reasons.
First one is about a bitter experience I had early this year. If you remember, this year we had this Friday the 13th in March as well. I was so afraid that I didn’t step out of my house that day and was careful all day long. Nothing happened. And when it struck midnight, I was relieved and happy.
The next day I went out for my English class. On my way back, I lost my phone. I had a lot of pictures and writings stored in my beloved phone, which I lost in the blink of an eye. Of course, that was unfortunate. But the date wasn’t the “Unlucky 13th”.
And that made me realise, it’s not the date. It’s us.
The Beginning of a Change
The second reason is a beautiful realisation. Remember, author Dipa Sanatani? We did a remarkable interview session around this time last year. Yeah, she is the same writer whom I like to call my soul sister. Well, she released her second book “The Merchant of Stories” this year and I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the book. The second reason relates to the articles that she wrote about her ancestors in her book.
As I read through those articles, I felt something stir within me. The deep connection that Dipa Sanatani feels with her ancestors touched my heart. Growing up in a nuclear family away from our ancestor’s home, it’s really difficult for me to articulate such deep feelings with one’s ancestors. Yet, somewhere deep down, I did.
All my life, I missed the loving relationship with my grandparents. I longed to have them beside me all the time. I felt jealous of the ones who got to live with them. Whenever I visited my ancestral home, I tried to spend most of my time with my grandmother. But when she died a few years ago, the last string snapped too.
I have no idea how the love of a grandfather feels like. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have him in my growing up years. He died when I was just two years old. I don’t even remember him! When I wrote a story on a grandfather-granddaughter relationship, I had to consult the internet and rely on my friend’s experience to know what’s that like. It couldn’t be sadder.
But Dipa Sanatani’s articles brewed a change in me. There she talked about the spiritual connection that we have with our ancestors. In yet another recent article, she wrote how we should celebrate their life, instead of mourning their death.
Then, we did the most incredible interview themed on the torch of our ancestors. Reading her answers again gave me a lot of things to ponder about. And while writing the introduction to the article, something changed within me…
The Spiritual Connection
I suddenly began to feel that spiritual connection she talked about in her articles. For me it was subtler, but it was definitely there. As I tried to include a bit of my personal experience in the introduction, few words slipped out of my hands in a way I didn’t intend them to…
Unknown to myself, I said something in there that I never really gave a thought to. I suddenly connected my grandmother’s knack for extensive reading to my career as a writer. Indeed she was so happy when she got to know that I was writing my first novel. And then I had ended up dedicating that novel to her.
As I joined the dots, I felt myself connected to her spiritually…
I always felt sad because she left us before I could publish my book. But now I feel she never missed my journey as an author. On the contrary, she had actually blessed me and thrust me towards it. She was always there.
If not physically, but definitely spiritually…
A Day to Celebrate
As soon as I realised this, I felt this urge to do something in her honour; in the honour of all my ancestors. After all, they all had been showering their blessings upon us, all this while, without us even realising that.
But all the occasions for honouring our ancestors have passed—Shradh, Halloween, Hungry Ghost Festival—everything. I was too late to come to the realisation; and now I would have to wait a whole year to fulfil my wish. I felt sad.
And then again, Dipa came to my rescue. We were just casually talking about the upcoming Dewali and how we Bengalis have our Kali Puja during this time. I then spoke about our ritual of celebrating Bhoot Chaturdashi the day before Kali puja.
And then it just struck me…
If Halloween (that looks like a costume party of ghosts) is actually a day to honour our ancestors, then Bhoot Chaturdashi (that is said to be the day to ward off evil spirits) can also have an ancestral significance. So, I quickly did some research and found just that…
Bhoot Chaturdashi is also an event of honouring our ancestors. It is believed that on this day, the veil between our world and the afterlife grows thinner. And the last 14 generations of our forefathers (Choddo Purush) pays a visit to their families on earth. That is why we light 14 earthen lamps to guide them towards our house and eat 14 leafy greens (Choddo Shaakh) on this day in their honour.
I found the ritual quite similar to Halloween when the gateway between the death and the living opens, allowing the spirits to roam on the street. Same goes for the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, where it’s believed that the dead are free to roam the land of the living. A similar belief goes for Shradh as well. It is believed that during this time, our ancestors visit earth to bless their descendants; and the kin offers their ancestors different gifts in return to honour them.
And I remembered Dipa’s words:
“We humans are more alike than we are different.”
Make a Change!
Bhoot Chaturdashi isn’t a day to be afraid of the ghosts roaming out in the streets. It’s a day to remember our ancestors and thank them for their contributions in our life.
And after my newly discovered spiritual connection with my grandmother, I am going to celebrate Bhoot Chaturdashi this year in her honour.
Let’s see how that turns out for me. Wish me luck!